— Pete van Nuys
Impressions expressed here are my own.
OCBC’s Mission is advocacy for all bicyclists. Federal and state trends have brought us to the brink of new highway designs driven by environmental concerns and administered by the new California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA). Reporting directly to the Governor’s office, agencies under CalSTA include the CHP, DMV, CalTrans, OTS, and others.
CalSTA has directed major change in CalTrans’ priorities. Active Transportation emphasis has resulted in new policies and goals, among them a tripling of bicycle use by 2020 (though by what metrics I’m not sure). Nevertheless, it’s an ambitious goal.
And so we come to Cycletracks, the focus of this meeting. For cycletracks, or Class 4 Bikeways, are intended and designed to attract Californians who do not today ride in any significant way. Debates about their efficacy are irrelevant at this point– agencies throughout the state are competing with each other to become “bike friendly” and this latest concept is now one of the “tools in our toolbox” (if I heard that term one more time during this meeting I was going to throw a wrench at the speaker).
Cl. 4 bikeways are largely unknown in California: there are no standards for where they are appropriate, no agreed upon geometric dimensions, no set behaviors for bicyclists using them. To fill this void Caltrans has been tasked with publishing a guide. And while the form this document or documents might take has not even been determined, the agency must publish their guide by the end of 2015.
Usually the mucky-mucks at Caltrans would huddle with their consultants, draft their guide– typically in or a bulletin supplementing the Highway Design Manual and Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices– and put it out for those who build the roads to use. And those of us who use the roads they build would comment after the fact.
But someone at Caltrans realized that maybe when it comes to bicycle transportation “we” among the masses know more about the subject than they do. So they turned this process on its head, and summoned bicyclists, advocates, public works professionals, some CHP, planners, and consultants to sit down at the beginning of the process. And so we did.
There were none. This was an initial input process, to be digested by Caltrans Headquarters staff. And there was a lot to digest.
First, the Class 4 concept is much more complicated and costly than almost everyone assumed going in. And the anticipated end user challenges of intersection navigation only scratch the surface. The real safety concerns for the majority of those users– neophytes, untrained, undisciplined bicyclists– is a responsibility fraught with liability.
Those of us whose first concern was protection of cyclists’ right to the street stressed that cycletracks must not be mandatory and must not look mandatory. For instance, we stated that where a Cl. 4 is to be installed on a street with existing Cl. 2, that Bike Lane must remain next to the travel lane. If installed on a street with sharrows, the sharrows should remain.
Maintenance of point A to B efficiency should require that bicycle movement outside the cycletrack remain unimpeded. Bicycle signal faces should control only bicyclists within the cycletrack, not those using the roadway outside.
And maintenance of the pavement itself was a frequently discussed concern. As was ADA and pedestrian access across that pavement. Passenger side dooring. Delivery truck parking. Signage, marking, and behavior at unsignalized intersections.
Capital cost, time required to install, and the cost of correcting errors in design or installation was cited more than once, with the offered solution the ability to temporarily install with movable barriers, signs, and paint. This often led to the need for a clear means to experiment by local agencies and the need for liability immunity.
Despite these concerns cycletrack advocates remain determined to push projects ahead, insisting on “flexible standards,” an obvious oxymoron. Fuzzy language was a consistent challenge at the meeting– Caltrans staffers were assigned to “captain” each table and get key ideas out of each discussion group and up onto flip charts. I’d rate their performance at 75%.
Facilitators handed out a Glossary of Terms to bring consistency into our discussions. Highlight of the day came early when Jim Baross pointed out that the name of these facilities, by statute, was “separated bikeways.” Every page in the Glossary referred to them as “separated bike lanes.”
A draft guidance is likely to be circulated before the final document. Whether the final emerges as a separate work, or is incorporated in the Highway Design Manual was not determined.
E-bike sales and the power of the free market will do more to put butts on bike seats than Class 4 bikeways. That point was almost completely ignored yesterday. But our roadways will look different in 10 years and the role pedal-only bicycles will play is uncertain.
The cost and complication, not to mention political climate of individual cities, will limit cycletrack installations, probably to city cores and select major arterials.
The words “culture” and “cultural change” popped up several times yesterday. It’s amazing that calls for education and communication came up so seldom.